A silent honoring of comrades: Coins left on graves serve as veteran practice

Published: May. 29, 2023 at 4:41 PM EDT
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BECKLEY, W.Va. (WVVA) - Most have probably heard the old saying, ‘Find a penny pick it up, and all day you’ll have good luck.’ But there’s one place where that doesn’t apply: cemeteries.

“People will see change on the things [headstones], and they’ll come out there and say, ‘Oh, people’s left money here,’ and, you know, you sort of explain it to them,” shared James Burgess, Sales Manager for Blue Ridge Funeral Home and Cemetery in Beckley.

Burgess has worked in the cemetery business for many years, and, in that time, he has found a plethora of items- albeit flowers, stuffed toys, and pictures- placed on any of the hundreds of markers in Blue Ridge. However, he says one thing that is actually not uncommon to find is money.

According to Burgess, veterans will often leave change on the graves of their comrades. He tells WVVA that it is a practice done silently and without show, but one that holds so much meaning.

“If they leave a penny, they’re just showing their respects,” Burgess explained. “You know, just letting people know in the silence of their of own, you know, grieving of loved ones and brothers of arms and all that. A nickel, that’s like if one of their buddies that they was in boot camp with. That’s why you leave a nickel, so they actually went through training with them. A dime is basically, did you serve in the armed forces with them? And a quarter, of course, it tells them if they was with them when they was killed during war times.”

It is unknown how long this practice has been passed between veterans living and dead, but Burgess says he is always willing to explain its meaning to visitors.

“It’s something that a lot of people don’t know about. I’ve been around a long time, and I know a lot of people that come in here and don’t know anything about it.”

And he tells WVVA that once they know about the practice, they’ll never forget.

“Just leave them alone. They’re there for a reason and now that you know what it means, you probably will- you know, it’ll be fascinating. You’ll start looking for them.”

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